Dr.Jack Kevorkian,”Dr.Death,”Did the Physician Have Integrity?

July 13th, 2011
Jim Thomas

Both he and the facts are a matter of record. As a medical pathologist in Michigan, he willfully assisted at least 130 patients, dozens of whom—though not all—were terminally ill, end their lives. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 25 years. Beginning in 1999, he served eight years of the sentence before being paroled. He died June 3, 1911, age 83.

Whether you, the reader, believe in an ill or suffering person’s right to end his or her life is beside the point. What is relevant were Kevorkian’s beliefs on the highly controversial subject?

By the 1980s, he formulated and published them in a series of articles that appeared in the German journal Medicine and Law. He held it was his professional duty to end human suffering. It was his duty to assist those in hopeless agony, mental and physical; whose individual lives had lost all meaning. He denounced the idea that the humane way was to let people starve and thirst to death, claiming that was the position of the American Medical Association.

Declaring that it was his aim to find a solution to incurable agony, he flatly refused to deny or disclaim his written beliefs. Defying prosecutors, the courts, and public condemnation, he proceeded to assist those who sought his services. He said, “It is no crime to die.” His stand cost him eight years in prison.

Critics and supporters agree that Kevorkian’s stubborn advocacy for his position stimulated hospice care in the United States. It also brought out in the open public debate on a subject long considered taboo. In 1997 the State of Oregon enacted a law authorizing physicians to prescribe lethal medications for the terminally ill seeking to end their lives. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the statute constitutional.

Before answering the question posed, consider this: the cardinal virtue of integrity is the capacity to hold firmly to a set of principles, those that withstand scrutiny, that are beneficial to those directly concerned, even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unprofitable to do so. Stated differently, integrity is the ability to stand by an idea.

So, how do you answer the question?

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